When to Choose a Backhoe Loader vs. a Mini Excavator

It’s a question of size and power.

The old workhorse of the construction site, the backhoe loader, has lost ground in recent years to smaller machines, such as mini excavators. But backhoe loaders and mini excavators each have their unique strengths, and one machine may be better than the other for your next earthmoving project. 


One of the main advantages of a mini excavator is its smaller size. This makes it not only more fuel-efficient but also nimbler. Its maneuverability, track size (as small as 40 inches wide) and compact swing allow it to go places a backhoe loader might not be able to access

Small size, however, means less weight and therefore reduced ground pressure for sensitive surfaces. And you can tow a mini excavator with a ¾-ton pickup truck and a trailer.

Available in a variety of classes dictated by their power, size and weight, mini excavators are well suited for small or medium landscaping, digging, trenching and drilling projects. The smallest mini excavators work well for interior demolition projects and jobsites with weight restrictions. They can fit through most doorways and backyard gates. 

Optional mini excavator attachments include brush mowers, concrete breakers, augers and grapples.

Cargador para retroexcavadora

Backhoe loaders are big, heavy machines. They are best suited for large-scale projects that demand power and speed. The average backhoe can dig 12 to 16 feet. They can travel up to 25 miles per hour on road surfaces between worksites and traverse large jobsites quickly. In addition, their outriggers provide good stability on uneven surfaces. 

Thanks to the loader on the front end and the variety of attachments you can use with a backhoe loader, the machine may able to perform a wider array of jobs than a mini excavator. Optional attachments for the backhoe include road brooms, buckets, snow plows and drum compactors.

Jobsite considerations

Which excavator will serve you best depends on your jobsite(s) and the tasks you’re performing? For projects with tight spaces, such as indoor demolition or backyard pool development, mini excavators offer an excellent option. 

On larger sites that demand speed and capacity, backhoes offer a horsepower upgrade for digging deeper and moving heavier loads. It’s common to find these machines in use on home building projects and road and bridge repair projects. Their ability to travel from one nearby jobsite to the next without the use of a trailer also comes in handy.  

For guidance on which machine is best for your company or project, contact your local United Rentals branch.

Michael D’Estries is a freelance writer who specializes in science, innovation and the arts.


Was this article helpful?

17 out of 22 found this helpful